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Kabul Mayor Keeps City Running After Taliban Takeover


In this Aug 18, 2015, photo, Mohammad Daoud Sultanzoy, a former lawmaker overseeing the handover of military airports for the Afghan government, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Kabul.

Mohammad Daoud Sultanzoy is the mayor of Kabul, Afghanistan's sprawling capital city. And while the Taliban have kept him in office, he has a word of caution for the militant group.

Sultanzoy said in a Monday interview with VOA's Afghanistan Service: "If the Taliban don't pay heed to people's aspirations, they, too, will be seen" as one of the groups that promoted religious, ethnic and regional interests. "And their reputation will be damaged."

A prominent politician with no ties to the Taliban, Sultanzoy was among a handful of senior officials who were allowed to keep their jobs after Taliban took charge in Kabul on August 15, capping their swift takeover of the country. Most other leaders quit or fled the country.

A Taliban fighter stands guard at a checkpoint in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2021.
A Taliban fighter stands guard at a checkpoint in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2021.

Sultanzoy said the Taliban had called him the day after entering the capital, a city of nearly 5 million residents, and asked him to continue to do his job.

"So I went to work," he said. "Until I'm told otherwise, I'll continue to work. This is my country. I don't work for any individual or group. I serve my city's residents. I'm from Kabul, and I'll live in Kabul."

A commercial pilot by training, Sultanzoy served as a member of the Afghan parliament from 2005 to 2010 and unsuccessfully ran for president in 2014. Ashraf Ghani, the winner of the 2014 election, later appointed Sultanzoy as a top adviser before putting him in charge of the capital city in March 2020.

Like many other erstwhile Ghani allies, Sultanzoy criticized the former president for fleeing the country without informing members of his own government.

"As members of the Cabinet, we should have been informed," Sultanzoy said. "At least we should have had a meeting."

FILE PHOTO: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani makes an address about the latest developments in the country from exile in United Arab Emirates, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video on Aug. 18, 2021.
FILE PHOTO: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani makes an address about the latest developments in the country from exile in United Arab Emirates, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video on Aug. 18, 2021.

In an August 18 video message from the United Arab Emirates, where he is now living, Ghani defended his decision, saying he was "forced to leave" Afghanistan to avoid bloodshed.

As much of the world fixates on the evacuation of thousands of Americans and Afghans from Kabul, and as Afghanistan still lacks a new national government, city officials have continued to provide basic services, Sultanzoy said.

"Just today and yesterday, we started removing (street and sidewalk) barriers," he said. "Once security is restored, all these barriers should be removed."

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid looks on as he addresses the first press conference in Kabul on Aug. 17, 2021 following the Taliban stunning takeover of Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid looks on as he addresses the first press conference in Kabul on Aug. 17, 2021 following the Taliban stunning takeover of Afghanistan.

Speaking at a press conference in Kabul on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the municipality has also resumed trash collection.

There are problems, however. Taking advantage of the security vacuum, some city residents have recently started building illegal housing at night, Sultanzoy said.

While the Taliban have yet to form a new government, they've started hiring new police officers to replace the thousands that quit their jobs after the militants captured the city, he said. And Mujahid said the former head of Kabul's traffic police force has been reappointed to his post.

"Kabul has a city government. This government should be allowed to function," Sultanzoy said. "That's why I didn't quit my job, because if I had quit my job, it would have been very irresponsible. It would have been an act of treason."

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